Earlier this year, we found ourselves in the enviable position of having early access to the new Mazda MX-5 in one of Europe’s most beautiful regions: Provence. We were in the south of France to shoot a new video for the latest, most powerful production version of Mazda’s best-selling sports car, and visited some stunning towns, roads and scenery. We present these discoveries below in our guide to Provence, and also include a Google Map route for a weekend road trip that encompasses all these wonderful locations. Enjoy!
The twisting, writhing Grand Corniche lays claim to being France’s most celebrated driving road. Built by Napoleon over 30 years, the road climbs above Nice, giving superb views of Monaco and the glittering Mediterranean beyond.
The Route des Crêtes is a narrow road that proves entertaining and challenging to drive and comes to an end at the picturesque town of Cassis. The beauty of the ever-changing scenery is matched only by the intimidating drop to the sea.
Inhabited since Paleolithic times, the ancient city of Toulon is a huge industrial port and hub for the French Navy. Drive up Mont Faron behind the city at sunset for one of the best views anywhere in the Mediterranean.
Constantly overshadowed by its more illustrious neighbours, Bandol has a charm of its own and a promenade that oozes olde-worlde chic. The area also produces some of Provence’s most famous wines – reason enough to make a stop!
The huge medieval walls of Aigues-Mortes hide a labyrinth of charismatic streets, charming squares and a bustling community. Having pre-dated the Romans, the nearby saltworks provide a clue to the town’s longevity.
Considered one of France’s most beautiful villages, Les Baux-de-Provence (above left) has a population of 22 yet welcomes 1.5 million tourists annually courtesy of the former outpost’s crumbling architecture and historical importance.
This mystical region is home to the Rhône delta. The abundance of water and unusual fauna (from bulls to flamingos) produces an unexpected ambience. The Camargue is a long way from the typical perception of the south of France.
Native to the region, the Camargue bull is best known for competing in a form of bloodless bullfighting called course camarguaise. Rather than hurting the bull, the human participant (or raseteur) removes rosettes from the animal’s horns.
Relatively little is known about the history of the small, powerful Camargue horse. It has lived semi-feral in the region’s marshlands for thousands of years, and is considered to be one of the oldest breeds of horse in the world.
The MX-5 proved the perfect companion on our French adventure. It was stable, quiet and refined on the autoroute yet engaging and playful on some of Europe’s finest driving roads. New features include a telescopic steering wheel, which improves comfort, plus there’s a wealth of cutting-edge technology – Smart City Brake Support, a Rear View Camera and a Traffic Sign Recognition System – that makes driving the car easier and safer than ever, and more fun, too. But of all the enhancements, the updated Skyactiv-G 2.0 engine makes the largest impression, providing unprecedented focus and aggression. More torque, the ability to rev to 7,500rpm and 184hp (an increase of 24hp) have imbued the car with an impressive urgency and vigour. Even better, none of this has been to the detriment of the legendary MX-5 handling, and the car remains as nimble, responsive and rewarding as ever.